Submitted by David Whish-Wilson on Fri, 20/05/2011 – 13:45

I was on a panel with Colleen Egan at the 2011 Perth Writers Festival. The panel was chaired by Terri-Ann White and entitled ‘Behind the Police Tape’ – a look at two responses to two major Perth murders, resulting in one ‘fictional’ book (Line of Sight) and the other a work of non-fiction (Colleen’s Murderer no More). There were other similarities too, which weren’t immediately apparent but came out after some discussion at the session – that both stories had their genesis in a request from a bloke serving life for murder (one being Shane Finn, the other, Andrew Mallard), as well as the duration between becoming involved with the case (in both cases more than a decade) and the writing of the book, and some of the blowback from working on cases that discredit certain members of the WA police force (made explicit in recent ABC  Australian Story episodes dedicated to the freeing of Andrew Mallard, and the impacts this has had on John Quigley, in particular.)

It was fascinating to hear Colleen’s description of the research that went into clearing Andrew Mallard of the murder charge, and even more so to hear how she went about structuring the book (which has deservedly just been long-listed for a Ned Kelly in the true crime category.) For those who don’t know about the Andrew Mallard case, which forms the basis of Murderer No More, Andrew Mallard was a young bloke living rough back in Perth in the eighties, who had the misfortune of being in the proximity of a particularly brutal murder, and once arrested of being susceptible to manipulation due to his vulnerable mental state. He was very quickly made the prime suspect in the murder of suburban jeweller Pamela Lawrence, who was found bludgeoned to death in her Mosman Park shop. A young witness described a man seen in the shop at the time, and another young woman, a fellow-stoner like Andrew, called police to suggest that he might be responsible. When picked up, Andrew denied any responsibility, but the hippy chick wouldn’t support his alibi.

  Basically, Andrew Mallard was a patsy. Evidence that emerged subsequently demonstrates without a doubt that certain detectives investigating the murder knew that the forensic evidence disqualified Andrew Mallard as a suspect, but they not only concealed this from the defence team (such as it was) but continued to work him over until they got a conviction. He was interviewed for eight hours after coming straight out of the Graylands mental institution, then when he was set free he was befriended by an undercover copper who according to Andrew, not only gave him copious amounts of ganga but tried to fit him up with some jewellery taken from Pamela Lawrence’s shop.

Andrew Mallard was convicted on the basis of a sidchrome wrench that he drew for detectives while disoriented in an interview, having been schooled as to what the murder weapon was (although, when it was subsequently made clear to these detectives that it couldn’t have been a wrench, they didn’t bother to let the defence team know.) In a rambling video interview Andrew was led towards a confession, of sorts, interspersed with denials, and hypothetical observations, made to please the detectives, while barely incriminating himself.

That the case ever went to court on such flimsy evidence is a travesty – that the court system in WA colluded time and again to reject Mallard’s appeals makes it even worse. It was only when the case finally left the WA jurisdiction in 2005 that the conviction was finally quashed by the High Court of Australia.

By that time, Andrew Mallard, an innocent man, had served eleven years at Casuarina Prison, Perth’s maximum security facility (Andrew Mallard was imprisoned at Casuarina while I was working there as a creative writing teacher, but this was during his long period of paranoid psychosis  – before he took the pills that fixed him – and we never met – a pity.)

What Colleen Egan’s terrific book details is the long and arduous process of freeing Mallard, from 1998 when the case first came to her attention, to 2005 when the case was finally quashed (and beyond, to the enquiry into the behaviour of the detectives who fitted Mallard up.) Mallard was certainly lucky to have such a supportive, generous and determined family, and he was lucky to have Colleen, and legal eagles Quigley, McCusker and others in his corner, all working pro bono.

It’s a fantastic story and very well written. Because of her access to Andrew Mallard much of the story is told from AM’s point of view, and this gives the narrative an immediacy and a focus that a more formal story might lack. Based on solid research, Murderer No More is a savage indictment of a criminal justice system that had no interest in freeing an innocent man from jail, preferencing the reputations of the police and lawyers who convicted him in what was essentially a miscarriage of justice – while also structured and written in such a way that it is a very intriguing, suspenseful and fascinating read. It is heartening that investigative journalists such as Colleen Egan are still out there, and yet the book makes clear the costs and the sacrifices that she and John Quigley and others made to keep the case alive. The tragedy, of course, is not only that Andrew Mallard served eleven years in jail for a crime that he didn’t commit (or that his father died while he was incarcerated) but that the narrow-sighted police investigation that led to his conviction allowed the real murderer to stay free, where he was soon to take another life in another brutal murder.

Murderer No More – Colleen Egan, Allen & Unwin, 2010. From the dust jacket – ‘It took twelve years and an epic struggle by Andrew’s mother and sister, a team of lawyers and West Australian journalist Colleen Egan to right this wrong. Not only did their unrelenting battle for justice end in the high court of Australia making a devastating judgement against the West Australian courts, but it also led to cold-case investigators identifying the real murderer.’